Posts Tagged ‘Wealth

26
Dec
11

5 Personal Annoyances of Being Communist

I’m still working on a larger post for tomorrow, so for today I thought I’d just post five personal annoyances I’ve run into as a Communist- maybe some of you can relate.

 

I. “You’re a Communist, so you must love Russia!”

Upon hearing that I am a Communist, most people assume that, as such, I have a torrid love affair with all things Russian. Vodka must be my favorite drink, the ushenka must be my favorite hat (the big, furry ones), I must always be rooting for the villains in old James Bond movies.

Ok, technically I am- but only because this guy is really, really obnoxious...

Now if the USSR was still around, this assumption  would be more understandable- but the Soviet Union fell apart decades ago- why would people continue to assume that as a Marxist, I’m a fan of Russia? Even the basic logic of this is flawed. Let’s say that, for just a moment, that Russia was the very epitome of the Marxist ideals (it wasn’t). It still wouldn’t make sense. The equivalent of saying “You’re a Communist, Russia is Communist, therefore, you must like Russia” would be arguing that “You drink water, cats drink water, therefore you must like cats”.

And why Russia? China used to be seen as a Communist nation- why am I never assumed to be a big China fan?

A very big fan...

It’s not that I dislike Russia (barring the national cuisine, which should constitute a cruel and unusual punishment), it’s just that I’m tired of my political views being taken to assume that I am, in the end, just obsessed with all things Russian. It’s a false depiction of Communism as something exclusively Eastern European and I can only imagine the Russians are sick and tired of the comparison as well.

 

II. “If you’re a Communist, how come you aren’t poor?”

Now this is something that really bothers me- maybe you’ve run into it as well. Someway or another, the fact that you’re a Marxist comes up, and someone pipes in that “Hey- if you’re a Communist, then how come you aren’t poor?”.

How come I’m not poor?

Look, I get the idea that there are plenty of people out there who complain about the injustice of wealth despair from the more comfortable of the two sides. A common way people will put down the Occupy Wall Street protestors is by claiming they’re just a bunch of spoiled college kids complaining about wealth on their apple computers. Hey, I am a college student (for a few more months, anyways) in my early twenties railing about the Capitalist system- I fit a lot of the stereotypes as well. What kills me though is the lousy logic behind this- you have to be poor to complain about poverty. Yeah, kinda like how you have to be a slave to rail against slavery, or be starving to condemn the effects of famine.

It’s just plain idiocy.

And it stems from this similarly irrational concept that the radical left is, because we’re opposed to wealth inequality, must be advocating universal poverty.

This isn't exactly our vision for the future...

The idea that you must be poor to try to fight for an equitable society, or that you can only choose between a few being wealthy and everyone being wealthy- well, you can probably guess that being tagged with this false representation is pretty irritating.

 

III. “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”

A similar argument that gets presented to me sometimes is the question of jobs. While now working part-time as a janitor, I used to get harassed with the question of “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”. Now at first glance, this might seem like a legitimate criticism, after all, if Communism is based on the workers rising up, it might seem strange to speak out on behalf of the workers when you yourself don’t work. But let’s run with that logic for a bit, shall we? Using this logic, people who are out of work don’t qualify as part of the working class. Same goes for the homeless, the mentally challenged, immigrants, etc. Effectively, it’s the reverse of the “You’re too well-off to be a revolutionary”, arguing that the most oppressed and alienated in society are “Too poor to be revolutionaries”.

Needless to say, when faulty reasoning is employed to discredit you as a hypocrite no matter what you do, it can feel pretty aggravating.

 

IV. “You’re a Communist, huh? Then that means you have to give me your ________!”

Now I’ll admit, I’ve only ever encountered this with one person (though he did constantly fall back onto this argument), I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s something other leftists run into, but here it is.

This one person, a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (aka, Capitalism on PCP) would argue “Hey, if you’re a Communist, then you have to give me whatever you have!”. As I said, I’ve only ever encountered this reasoning with this particular person, but it does seem to be reflective of a larger view on Communism. Only Communism isn’t about handouts, it’s about sharing. Whenever this person used that argument, I’d respond with “No, I won’t give you my _________, but I’ll share it with you if we both participate in a mutually beneficial venture. Again, its a false portrayal of Communism as being about handouts, when nothing could be further from the truth. Equal work for a common reward using tools and resources we share.

Like I said, I’ve only ever had this line of thought explicitly used by a single person, but the general misrepresentation of Marxism as being about enabling the poor to leech off of the wealthy.

Poor People: Viciously exploiting the wealthy since 8,000 B.C.

 

V. “Democrats are Socialists!”

As much as liberals and Democrats hate being called Communists, it pales in comparison with how much Communists hate being called liberals and Democrats.

I think Phil Ochs perhaps said it best with this song:

In case you’re like me, and have an irrational aversion to clicking on YouTube links on blogs, let me break it down for you. The comparison between the radical left and Democrats/liberals/progressives is so annoying is because, despite the yawning chasm that supposedly separates the mainstream right and left in the US, they really aren’t all that different.

"Evil Republicans endorse Capitalism with some government restristictions, unlike the good Democrats who endorse Capitalism with some government restrictions..." -Everyone on AlterNet

I don’t like having to sift through countless pictures equating Obama’s policies to Marxism when I’m looking for Communist-related photos. I don’t like my values and perspectives being put on par with those of Bill Maher. I cannot state this enough- the policies of the liberals and progressives are in no way, shape, or form similar to those of Communists, and it is a pain in the neck to constantly have to try to extricate my symbols and terminology from the “Obamunist” apocalypse foretold by the right-wing. Again, I’m not bashing Democrats as people- I have Democrat friends. What aggravates me is the equation of my ideology with theirs- the relationship simply does not exist.

This kind of junk has got to stop

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16
Nov
10

The Point Of It All

I’m not feeling so great. I’ve been up since six this morning with no real sleep for the past two days. My stomach is aching from a combination of stress and oily, fatty college cafeteria food. I’ve spent the past three hours having my brain clubbed into a gooey pulp by a statistics test, and I’ll be having to write up a major presentation and memorize it by tomorrow evening.

 

I have it easy.

 

There are millions of people out there who would sell their own children to be in my place. Thousands of people have sold their own children to have a chance at being where I am. There are millions of people who, no matter how hard they work or how long or how well, will never be where I am.

 

That’s just a little something to put things in perspective.

 

I’m sitting here, eyes-bloodshot, stomach churning, neck-aching and I’m wondering why? Why am I putting myself through this everyday (sure it’s nothing compared to other people’s hardships, but let’s stay focused here)?

 

Why do people go to college? Well, some people are in college because they want to party for four years before the responsibilities of life and the universe hit them. Some people are here (at my college especially) to find someone to marry, but in general, the overwhelming number of us are in college to get degrees so they can get jobs.

 

Not sure, you don’t need a college degree to get a job. You don’t need to know how to find a t statistic for related samples or the definition of a theodicy to get a career in a textile mill or as a janitor. Only problem for those who try going down this road is that in the West, the vast majority of jobs you would be able to get without a degree can be done infinitely cheaper by a twelve-year old in Indonesia or an illegal immigrant. Sure there are still jobs out there for the degree-less, but it’s hard to support yourself, let alone any sort of family, working the grill at McDonalds or mowing lawns. There’s always the army, but considering the pay isn’t much better and the work is slightly more than hazardous, it’s a bit of a gamble.

 

So that’s where degrees come in. You want to have a decent-paying job at some point, you’ll need a degree. I’m at college to get a degree and chances are that you were/are/will be at college to get a degree. But is that really enough? I can’t help think back to a Peter Kreeft book where the resurrected philosopher Socrates approaches a college student to figure out why he’s attending college. I’ll paraphrase it briefly:

Socrates: Why are you here?

Student: To get a degree so I can get a job.

Soc: Why?

Stu: To make a lot of money so I can have a family and send my children to college.

Soc: Why will you send them to college?

Stu: So they can get degrees and get jobs.

 

It goes on like that.

 

Now this is really what I’m seeing here at my college. Students come in from generally the middle-class/upper-class to get degrees, get jobs, and return to being part of the middle-class/upper-class. People will take jobs on the basis of pay, whether said jobs are fulfilling or not, and spend the next forty years or so grinding away at their jobs. Why? To do what they really want to do. To go fishing, to take care of a garden, to spend time with family, to paint, to read, to tinker with cars, to cook, to write, and so on. It’s seems to me to be awful rate of exchange if we’re working sixty-plus years at jobs we don’t care about (or even hate) to spend our old age desperately trying to do the things we we wanted to do from the beginning (indeed, the things we were born to do). I don’t want to work on the machine that going to sap me of my life, rewarding me with the chance to do what I love doing when I’m too old to do it! I don’t want to have wealth, I want to have purpose.

 

That, I think, is the point of it all.

The only question we’re left with is “what purpose”?

 

09
Jul
10

The Communist World

A few years ago, I was attempting to obtain a permit at a government organization that will not be named here, and after waiting in line for a good hour and a half I finally got my turn to take the test required. As I entered the testing room I was informed that I could have circumvented this entire process by mailing this office some paperwork earlier in the year. Now before I had the chance to inform the low-level civil servant in charge of the testing that I had been traveling and unable to send in the paperwork, he snorted and called me ‘stupid’.

Now I generally dislike being called that, but I had just waited in line for an hour and a half and all I wanted was to take the test and be done with it- chewing the guy out wouldn’t have gotten me out of there any faster. But more importantly than all that, I couldn’t help but pity the guy. He was in his late fifties, seriously overweight, in all likelihood suffering from a heart condition, and stuck- day in, day out- processing paperwork in a stuffy, crowded office.

I can’t help but feel that this wasn’t what he had planned on doing with his life.

Sure, there’s the off chance that when his pre-school teacher asked him as a child what he wanted to be when he grew up, he cheerfuly gurgled “I want to be a low-level civil servant doing a dull and repetitive job as I develop health issues while reeking of stale sweat and despair’, but I doubt this is what happened. And I can’t help but think to myself, maybe society could benefit more if this guy only processed paperwork every other Thursday, and spent the rest of the work week doing whatever he’s talented at. Maybe he’s brimming with raw, artistic talent- maybe he could be a concert musician who takes a couple days out of the month to process paperwork. Wouldn’t that be better not only for him but for all of us?

And then I think to myself, what if we applied that to everyone working a repetitive, dull, unskilled job? What if everyone took a turn filing papers, mixing cement, sweeper the streets, stacking boxes, or serving coffee? Wouldn’t thousands- no, millions of people suddenly be freed up to pursue what they were born to do- be it writing or teaching or studying medicine or astronomy or the like? Wouldn’t we be healthier, physically healthier as a society if we all did a share of manual labor? Wouldn’t we have a greater respect for each other if we understood what’s it’s like to scrub a mountain of dirty dishes or pick litter off the sides of the highways? The simple fact of the matter is that with everyone contributing, we would have a happier and more efficient society.

And this is what Communism is- the sharing of menial labor so that everyone can pursue the profession of their choosing. Classism, the separation and segregation of people based on wealth, falls to pieces. The need for an oppressed and exploited working class to support the luxuries of a decadent minority is gone with the creation of this new classless society. This, combined with the abolition of private property, creates a society free from the struggles between the haves and the have-nots- poverty and pointless excess become things of the past. In short- we have Marxism, a society of shared wealth, shared work, and a shared future.

And is it perfect? Of course not. People will always be people- greedy, xenophobic, deceitful, lazy, and irrational. There will always be crime, there will always be war, and there will always be corruption.

But hey- it still beats the system we have now.

03
Apr
10

Live Long and Prosper?

If you were to look up “Communism” in a philosophy book, you’d probably find it under a section dealing with “Materialism”. The problem with this is that the popular meaning of the word “Materialism” has changed radically over the years. In terms of philosophy, the original meaning of “Materialism” was a category of philosophies primarily concerned with the concepts of property and their effects on human society/history. If I were, however, to use the term “Materialist” today, it would commonly be assumed that I was referring to the idea that the end goal of life is to accumulate wealth (radical hedonism, essentially). This is a recurring problem with many terms connected to Communism- in Marx’s day, “Socialism” meant a society embracing shared property and rejecting the class system, today we use it to refer to a politico-economic system where the majority of property is owned and managed by a massive government- but perhaps that’s off topic.

The issue with trying to categorize Communism in philosophy is that Marx was rather critical of philosophy as a whole. He asserted that analyzing the world should not be an end but merely a means to bring about change and advancement (“Philosophers have merely interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it!” -Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”). While Communism definitely does offer a socio-politico-economic perspective, to claim that Communism is an all-out philosophy wouldn’t be quite correct. While most philosophies make some basic assumptions about the purpose of life (hedonism, as much pleasure as possible; Socratic philosophy, preparing for death;  aesthetic realism, finding harmony in life; the list goes on and on), Communism on the other hand functions more like a scientific theory than a code of ethics or an understanding of existence (indeed, one of the reason people find Marx so hard to read is the fact that he treats economics almost like a branch of physics). Don’t misunderstand me- Marx did have convictions. He saw the exploitation of the proletariat as the principal factor in the toppling of Capitalism and the class system and believed that the toppling of the Capitalism and the class system would propagate justice and equality. It’s like a scientist discovering that running electricity through a gas filled bulb not only creates light but it is his moral imperative to run electricity through a gas filled bulb and create light. As a result of all this, you’ll find no single, coherent Communist philosophy but rather a number of philosophies espousing Communist political theory. On one side you have philanthropic, altruistic humanist communists who have become Communist out of love for their fellow man. On the other side you have cynical and bitter antisocial communists who have become Communist out of a belief in morality rather than man (the author falls into this category). And between these two extremes you’ll find any number of other philosophies- religious Communism, green Communism, Anarcho-Communism, etc. If there’s a mainstream philosophy out there, you’d be safe to bet that there’s a Communist version of it (baring, perhaps, Ayn Rand-style Objectivism).

Now one might argue that the exact same rules apply to Capitalism. “Capitalism is a socio-economic theory too. You can hold any philosophy or worldview and still be a Capitalist!”.

Now this is partly true. You can indeed be a Capitalist and hold the purpose in life to protect and preserve the earth and all its natural wonders. The problem is that if you also accept Capitalism, you have to maintain that it is perfectly legal (and indeed, a basic human right) to purchase a mountain, to prevent anyone else from walking on it, and if the owner so chooses, to blow it to pieces.

“Alright, so Environmentalism and Capitalism don’t mesh so well- but there’s still a ton of other philosophies out there.”

Absolutely, and they too don’t seem to mesh well with Capitalism. If you hold the purpose of life is to live honestly and decently, then you’re presented with a number of challenges (the primary of which is that in Capitalism, the highest profits come from underpaying and overworking your employees and overpricing your products- not exactly honest or decent, is it?). If you declare that the end goal in life is to live long and prosper and see your family happy and secure then you have to deal with the fact that this is the wish of not only you but a large percent of humanity and since in Capitalism there’s only so much room at the top you’ll have to viciously compete with your neighbors for this lifestyle (unless you’re born into it, in which case you just have to worry about the huddled masses eying your house and pool. Even if you believe that the sole purpose of live is to live in decadence and luxury, you have to contend with the very definitions of the words. Do two houses in Monaco count as decadence and luxury, or should you get a yacht as well (or more importantly, will you be any more happy and fulfilled with the yacht than you are now?).

So essentially, no matter what your philosophy is, it has to be accepted that in all likelihood, you’d be able to pursue it better in a society free from Capitalism. You want peace and happiness for your family? Maybe you should opt for a system where a starving homeless man is going to gun down your wife/husband for her/his necklace/wallet. You want to be able to do whatever you love doing? Maybe you should opt for a system where you aren’t forced to take whatever job pays the bills, no matter how painful or bland. You want to be able learn everything there is to know about a subject? Maybe you should opt for a system where education is a high-priced commodity available only to some.

Maybe you should opt for Communism.

18
Feb
10

The Trickle-Down Theory

Though it the term originated in the 1930s, the “Trickle-Down Theory” has come into increasing use over the past year (largely due to the global financial meltdown). Essentially, the theory holds that by cutting taxes on the wealthy and/or allocating wealth to the upper classes, the money they save will be spent on luxury items that will provide work and profits to the middle class, who in turn will buy products that provide work and profits to the working class.

Obviously, this theory is complete and utter tripe.

Firstly, the theory is based on the assumption that the items the wealthy buy will somehow benefit the middle-class. In reality however, when an oil tycoon buys a diamond necklace for his wife, he isn’t benefiting anyone. If he walks into a store to buy the necklace, is he somehow benefitting the clerk behind the counter? Of course not- her wages are the same whether or not he buys anything. The profits of the sale go to the diamond magnates who own the store. In short, the wealthy get wealthier- the middle class simply facilitates the process.

Now you might say, “Hey, doesn’t the oil tycoon’s purchase help the middle-class? Without customers, the store couldn’t operate and the clerk would be out of a job! And if the clerk is out of a job, she isn’t going to be able to spend money and produce profit for the working class!”. Now that’s partly true- but only partly. The clerk’s job does depend on the store being successful, however, let’s look at the big picture. If the store is already running, then it has enough business to provide the job. Whether the tycoon has a few extra thousand dollars isn’t going to make the slightest difference. Again, you might argue “But an increase in the demand for diamonds means that more diamonds must be mined, producing work and profits for the proletariat!”. Again, this is only partly true. Now if there was a massive increase in the demand for diamonds (and let’s face it, it’s not like diamonds wear out and need to be bought by the dozen), there would indeed be more work for the proletariat. There’d be more work, not more profit. The owners of the mines can simply increase the workload- they have no reason to increase wages. Unionizing? The majority of the world’s diamonds are mined in third world countries where (1) unionizers can be beaten, tortured, or killed and where (2) the general populace is so poor they’ll take whatever wages they can get. In short, an increase in wealth for the wealthy does not equate an increase in wealth for the entire social system.

Ok, maybe that isn’t entirely true. There are certain (rare) situations in which the trickle-down theory seems to work (which brings us to the second issue). Imagine a wealthy man decides to build a sports stadium- the advocates of the trickle-down theory will argue that this will provide jobs and profits for the local community. Now this will in fact provide jobs- as food vendors and janitors. Whatever extra money they have will be spent on things too insignificant to boost the community out of poverty. I wouldn’t call that “benefiting” the working class anymore than I would call a dew-drop in the Sahara a “water-supply”.

Now I’ve stated that the origin of the term “trickle-down theory” originated in the 30s- but the actual practice has been going on since the beginning of time. It’s what they used to do with hunting dogs. Sic them on rabbits and, after the dogs catches the prey, they wait patiently under the table while the master eats the meat. When the master’s done, he throws the scraps to them. Now it might work for dogs, but if you treat a human like an animal, then it is only a matter of time before he becomes one- and an animal and has no issue with ripping your throat out.

03
Jan
10

Sweet [and Sour] Charity

Let the facts be faced, charity is a futile practice. No matter how much money we donate, the poor seem to just get poorer. No matter how much aid is given to third world countries, no matter how many people volunteer at the local homeless shelters, no difference seems to be made.

It’s not because the right measures aren’t being taken. People aren’t (in general) being fed for a day- most charities and aid organizations attempt to help people help themselves. Impoverished families are taught modern farming techniques and are given poultry and livestock, the homeless are offered shelter and are instructed on how to hold a job. At first glance it would appear that charity is working great. There are, sadly, several factors which most people don’t take into account.

Firstly, there’s the overwhelming logistic issue. On the whole, charity and aid aren’t the foremost thoughts in the minds of those who actually do have excess capital. Give a man five dollars and his first impulse probably isn’t going to be to give that money away to someone else. Once we establish that very few people actually do give to charity on a regular basis, we have to realize that the number of people in wretched, abject poverty is monumentally greater than the number of people donating. For example, imagine that all that’s needed to bring one man out of poverty is a mere hundred dollars. If the average person donates five dollars per month (and that’s a generous estimate) it’ll take either (1) twenty months for enough cash to be raised to help the impoverished man (by which time it may be too late) or (2) twenty donors to help a single person. At this rate (and it’s a generous rate), charity will never help more than a fortunate few.

But of course, this is only if the aid gets to these people at all. Corruption is rife both within aid organizations and in every channel that the aid must pass through. Some estimate that only a quarter of all the money given to charity actually reaches those who need it (again, this is a generous estimate).

But of course, all of this is dwarfed by the third and most critical issue: what’s the point of getting people back on their feet when they’ll just get knocked down again? People don’t choose to be poor, people either become poor or are born poor. This is a world dominated by the principals of Capitalism. Competition is brutal, and those who aren’t quite as strong or smart or deceitful or brutal as others will inevitably find themselves forced to the lower rungs of the social ladder. The children of these people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves born into this hellish existence (to call it “life” would be a gross exaggeration). Now imagine enough money filters through to lift a family out of poverty. What then? We’ve simply placed them back into a glorified game of Monopoly where they’ll either be forced back down or force down someone else. Simply throwing people back into the system responsible for their situation is about as useful as bailing water out of a boat with a gaping hole in the hull. Essentially, the capitalist idea of charity is throwing money at something until it’s covered up. It’s costly and completely unproductive.

Now does this mean that charity and aid are wrong? Absolutely not! Helping one’s fellow man through any means is perhaps one of the noblest things a human can do. The problem isn’t with charity and aid- it’s with the system. Until we mend the hole in the boat’s hull, charity and aid serve only to offer fleeting comfort.

And perhaps that alone is something worthwhile.

12
Dec
09

Classism, Poverty, and Racism

In recent posts, I have been describing how “classism” (the stratification of society according to wealth) has become a new kind of racism. However, I feel obligated to describe how classism, in turn, creates and perpetuates racism.

It all starts with immigration. Immigration is, most often, a result of people attempting to seek a better life economically. Having come from a country usually ravaged by poverty or war or disease, immigrants tend to be poor themselves, and therefore are filtered into the working class/poor class of the country they’ve moved to. This situation, while comparatively better than the lives the immigrant’s have left behind, is still less than ideal. Crime rates and drug and alcohol abuse are still highest among the poor, no matter what the nation.

The issue with this (besides the rates of crime, drugs, and alcoholism) is that upper classes confuse the issues of crime and race. If the majority of crimes are committed by immigrants and minorities, then some will doubtlessly assume that immigrants and minorities are naturally indolent and/or criminally minded. Of course the reality of the situation is that crime rates are high among immigrants because immigrants generally live in abject poverty. With the evils of racial profiling and generalization, it becomes assumed that all immigrants and minorities are thieves and drug dealers, and therefore should be treated with suspicion or even open hostility. Inversely, this ill-treatment creates among immigrants and minorities feelings of animosity to the native majority. Racism, after all, works both ways.

So begins a cycle of abuse and distrust that only perpetuates racism. An innocent person (from a minority) locks himself out of his own car and is forced to break into it, only to be shot by the police who assume he’s a thief. In retaliation, a police officer (who had nothing to do with the shooting) is stabbed by an angry minority group. In response to this, a pair of children from a minority are beat up in school by their classmates- and so on and so forth in a long, tragic, and utterly pointless spiral.

In short, anywhere that there’s Capitalism, there’s classism, anywhere there’s classism, there’s poverty, anywhere there’s poverty, there’s crime which in turn leads inevitably to racism and bigotry. The only way to abolish racism is to abolish both poverty and the class system. Granted, some might argue that all that is needed is understanding and respect, but the fact remains that no matter how many murals are painted of people of all races holding hands around a globe, the poor are poor, the wealthy are wealthy, and the social divide spawns fear, crime, and racism.